Utah study uses records dating to the 1700s to identify family trees for fountain of youth

DRAPER — Harold Nielsen has a few personal theories about what has kept him energetic and mentally sharp at 92 years old.

For one thing, he says, he and his wife are “very conscious of what we eat,” with a longtime daily diet rich in “fish and vegetables and so forth” and devoid of cigarettes or alcohol. For another, he credits a heart attack he suffered when he was 40 for inspiring him to work “pretty hard at staying healthy” and in shape.

“Even today I work out three or four times a week,” Nielsen said.

The Draper resident also cited the “incentives” he feels to “stay … to take care of my wife.”

“A desire to live is important, too,” Nielsen said.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Harold Nielsen, 92, squeezes fresh lemon juice into a drink at his home in Draper on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

But ask him what he knows about whether his family tree may have played a part in his long life, and Nielsen, like many others, is at a loss. He feels there are conflicting examples among relatives — neither of his parents lived nearly as long as he has, though he has a sister who died at 94, and a healthy niece who is 91.

“I don’t know about longevity in my family — it’s really hard to say, all things considered,” he said.

So to what extent is a person’s longevity heritable from their family tree?

The answer to that question is not just an unknown curiosity for laypeople; it has long been coveted by researchers who study aging.

“It may be one of the oldest questions in the history of mankind … what determines if we’re going to live to these really exotic ages,” explained Ken Smith, director of the Utah Population Database, in a recent phone interview.

University of Utah researchers now say they have new findings, published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, adding some clarity on the issue.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Harold Nielsen, 92, walks his dogs Lexie and Missie near his home in Draper on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

The study concluded that “longevity is heritable, but that primarily applies to persons from families where multiple members are among the top 10 percent survivors of their birth cohort,” said U. spokeswoman Brooke Adams. “The key to a long life can probably be found in the genes of these families.”

Lead author Niels van den Berg, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Data Sciences at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said by using a 10 percent threshold, “we observed … the more long-lived relatives you have, the lower your hazard of dying at any point in life.”

“For example, someone whose parents are both ‘top survivors’ has a 31 percent lower hazard of dying than someone of the same age without such parents,” van den Berg said in a statement. “Moreover, that person’s hazard of dying is reduced, even if the parents themselves did not live to be extremely old …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News


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